Stories of SunTran

RIDING WITH THE PEOPLE IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD

Debbie Jackson
Ji Li
Eddie Dickens

Can you remember your initial experience of riding a bus for the first time? The feelings of excitement, and the freedom of being a “big kid”?  Childhood memories are often etched into our minds, as the welcome sight of accordion-style doors, which open to reveal a driver’s friendly face and the joy of selecting your own seat. Carrying those joyful memories into adulthood and using public transportation can often seem overwhelming, intimidating, or even mystifying. What happened to the feelings we exhibited in our adolescence? We want to rekindle these memories and have people become excited about riding the bus.

SunTran, the public transportation system for Ocala/Marion County, is equipped with 12 bus vehicles that provide a critical service for citizens seeking transportation to their destination through seven bus routes. With 29 staff members, SunTran is a cooperative effort with the Ocala/Marion County Transportation Planning Organization (TPO), Marion County Government, the City of Ocala, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transportation Administration (FTA). 

We want to make it easy for passengers to use public transportation. By visiting suntran.org, riders will have access to helpful tools such as a live bus tracker, where to purchase bus passes, informational videos for planning a trip, how to properly load a bike onto the bus, and accessibility features for wheelchairs and strollers. 

One intimidating factor when riding the bus may be determining the cost. Riders can pay with cash or by purchasing a ticket in advance at one of the locations listed at suntran.org. 

SunTran buses carry an average of 19,300 riders monthly, traveling 1,644 miles every day. These numbers showcase the impact that our local public transportation system provides.  The next time a SunTran bus drives by, think about the following staff members who are a part of this transportation community. 

Operations Manager Eddie Dickens left driving tractor trailers to work with SunTran in 2014, with the goal of being able to spend more time with his daughter. He started as a part-time employee and worked his way up through the ranks. He plays a valuable role in public transportation by making sure buses are on time, checking on the drivers, and ensuring our riders get to their desired locations. Dickens goes out of his way to assist riders, including the time he personally escorted a passenger to the Greyhound Station so they would be able to get home.  

Perhaps consider the experience of Ji Li, Senior Transit Planner, who arrived at SunTran in 2020 after more than 10 years in transit planning. He strives to assist riders in a positive manner, including ensuring that routes are beneficial to our environment while enhancing the system’s efficiency. Recently, Ji worked with city staff to apply for and receive a $16.1 million grant through the FTA. The purpose of the Low-No Program is to support the transition of the nation’s transit fleet to the lowest polluting and most energy-efficient transit vehicle. These federal dollars will become part of the long-term transportation strategy for the city to expand service to underserved areas with cutting edge transit technology. The plan hopes to incorporate “Uber-style” microtransit that will offer more frequent service, reduced travel time, and real-time booking. In the words of Ji, “I’m excited about the future and want to make sure SunTran expands before my eyes.” 

Take a moment to reflect on Debbie Jackson’s time with SunTran. Her career began at its inception almost 25 years ago. Jackson has watched children become adults, and those adults have children. She has provided transportation for individuals with medical conditions that prevent them from driving. She gained her CDL through employment with SunTran and is thrilled to be part of the team because it was “different and exciting.” Jackson cheers on her riders when they finally save up enough money to buy their own car and bring it to the transfer station for her to see. She has been a fixture in so many people’s lives, and over her career she has seen people through the highs and lows of life, and she always roots for them along the way. 

Public transportation is not just a critical part of a city’s infrastructure; it is critical to the people who rely on this service. SunTran may provide a service to passengers, but it is the staff that is the heart and soul of the operation and these stories demonstrate the impact of them serving our community. Public transportation doesn’t just shape the lives of the people riding the bus, it builds a foundation for families now and in the future.

(352) 401-6999   |   www.suntran.org

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